A love letter to the Game Boy Advance SP
As a gamer, I’m sure that I’m not alone when I state that I love loving things. It’s why we all engage and partake in this past time after all, to experience the amazing, get caught up in the new, and enjoy totally unimaginable experiences that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to. The moment it first dawned on me how special gaming was, was when my parents bought me my Game Boy Advance SP.
Released in 2003 as an interim upgrade to Nintendo’s already highly-successful Game Boy Advance, the SP is everything a console iteration can and should be, rendering it my favourite video game console ever by far. Don’t get me wrong, some of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had in gaming – scaling various colossi, beating Ocarina’s Water Temple, taking down the Covenant – could never have been possible on the system, but it still made for some of the most formative years in my gaming history.
The mere mention of the Game Boy Advance SP will, for many, flood people with memories that was the gloriousness of the backlight, something we can’t imagine any handheld being without today. Prior to the SP various Game Boy Advance software were at risk of appearing too dark, so much so that games like Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance would be developed to be exasperatingly bright. Try playing Pokemon Blue, as good as that original game is, on the original Game Boy Advance, and you’d be forever squinting to make out that Pidgey.
The SP was economic, powerful, and fit neatly into the back of your jean pocket thanks to the clamshell design. Perhaps most of all, it was Nintendo’s first handheld console to truly earn the description of “portable”, no longer beholden to the packets and packets of AA batteries you’d previously needed to work your way through. The SP was chargeable via AC, and this alone warranted the experience of using it as a minor revelation. Outside of a fairly inaccessible headphone jack, until the recent Switch, the SP was Nintendo’s best designed hardware.
This meticulous level of detail thankfully didn’t stop merely at the hardware, but the platform’s actual games too. Thinking back now, it’s amazing what developers were able to do with only 4 methods of input (two face buttons and two shoulder buttons). The Sonic Advance series was arguably the best in the franchise since Sonic and Knuckles on the MegaDrive, with many zones lovingly re-created alongside a slew of new levels to blast your way through.
The system’s catalogue spawned a lot of new takes on established first party franchises like Metroid, Pokemon, and The Legend of Zelda, but also saw the launch as such modern favourites as Advance Wars, Golden Sun, and more. All in all the Game Boy Advance SP was a remarkable system for many reasons. It was released at a time where Nintendo was riding high, and players weren’t left wanting for things to play. Bust out those link cables everybody, it’s the only way to do battle!